It is not uncommon to hear people say “How fast Muharram has come and gone!” after the day of Ashura, the day on which the grandson of the Prophet and his family were slain in cold blood. For many of us, the climax of this period of mourning is the recitation of the Maqtal (martyrdom epic) of Imam Husayn(a) on the day of Ashura. While there is a quieter, deeper atmosphere of grief the night after the day of Ashura, sadly by the following day the majority of us have ‘slept it off’ and returned to our normal daily lives. We need to ask ourselves two pertinent questions in this regard. Are our emotions for the Prophet and his family, limited to the first ten days of Muharram and the recitations we hear in the mosque? If that is so, shouldn’t we be calling lecturers or eulogists ‘entertainers’? Are we not saying to them: “Make us cry so we do not have to feel guilty when we walk out of the mosque and go back to our daily routines?” What happened to the energy and spirit with which we claimed ‘never to let the message of Husayn(a) die’ during the first ten nights of Muharram? I have no doubt that in that moment of emotion, every one of us means and believes these words – indeed it is the miracle of Imam Husayn(a) that his love awakens even the hearts of the unconscious. But why do we forget all this so easily after Ashura? One explanation for this state of affairs might be that when it comes to Islam and Husayn ibn Ali(a), we are still emotional teenagers.
Perhaps what we have is a romantic crush on azadari (mourning). Perhaps we are in love with the idea of loving Husayn(a) because the ideals he stood and died for are so noble, so high that who can help but to want to be associated with them? In our minds, we are hopeful (and sometimes foolishly confident) that had we been in Karbala on the day of Ashura, we would have joined the camp of the Imam(a) without hesitation. And it is nice to believe this. But we need to sit back and consider that we are also laden with responsibilities and obligations which are not incommensurate with those felt by the companions of the Imam; obligations which may themselves need struggle and sacrifice. The one thing that stands out in Karbala is that no one asked ‘what, how or ‘when?’ but everyone knew “why?” This is why we have an excellent example in 72 different people – from different tribes, different ages, different walks of life – all presenting their sacrifice in their own unique ways, but not one of them conflicting with the other in purpose.
If we only step back for a moment and ask that same question, we might find the answers to both the issues mentioned above. We need to ask: ‘why are we mourning the Imam(a)?’ To answer this, we will need to understand the magnitude of his message and that will force us to go back to history and read about what happened in Ashura and the consequences of that momentous event. A tradition of the Prophet Muhammad(s) says: “Surely, there exists in the hearts of the believers, with respect to the martyrdom of Husayn(a), a heat that never subsides.” Did the Ahlul-Bayt(a) go through so much simply to gain sympathy and pity for eternity? Was this the message? Karbala evokes the strongest emotions within us because we’re then supposed to use this emotional high as a springboard to create a revolution within ourselves. Yet, if we find that we cannot do something as simple as change a single habit in these months for the better then it only indicates that our emotions are superficial like those of the people of Kufa. We write poetry saying that ‘someday’ the flag of Imam Husayn(a) will fly at the top of every house. Do we realise that we are also in some ways passing the buck? We seem to be waiting for someone else to do this hard work for us instead of understanding that the responsibility of maintaining the message of Husayn ibn Ali(a) belongs to no one else except those who appreciate the sacrifice of Husayn. Let us never think that we are doing the Prophet and his family a favour through anything we do in their name. The Prophet promised his beloved daughter Fatimah al-Zahra(a) that the mourning for Husayn(a) would be preserved until the end of time. Whether we decide to be part of it or not, it will continue. The favour is on us that we have been blessed with the knowledge and awareness of the status and honour of the family of Muhammad(s). This is a Mercy to us from God and as such it is up to us to decide whether or not we show appreciation for His love and attention. During the days of mourning, we distanced ourselves from celebrations and the frivolities of life. That is why these are the best days to reflect and focus on what needs to be changed in our lives. Let us, this year, liberate ourselves first – each and every one of us – before we begin to dream of liberating the world! •